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Welsh football team provides inspiration for Church's new training college

15 July 2016


Dragons: Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, leads his team on an open-top bus homecoming parade through Cardiff city centre, on 8 July

Dragons: Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, leads his team on an open-top bus homecoming parade through Cardiff city centre, on 8 July

THE Church in Wales should be inspired by the success of the Welsh football team to recapture its glory days, the principal of the province’s new training college has said.

The college, St Padarn’s Institute, which opened on Sunday, will be led by its principal, the Revd Dr Jeremy Duff. Much like the national side, he said, the Church in Wales had felt trapped by its history of decline. But, by choosing to focus on the future, and not the past, the largely unheralded Welsh squad had forged a way through to the semi-finals of the European Championships in France. The nation’s Church, he said, must now follow their path.

“Welsh football has been in the doldrums for many years, and some of that could be said about training, and the Church in Wales itself,” Dr Duff said on Monday. “When the weight of history is against you, it takes a lot of courage to go out expecting to win.”

To emphasise his point, he played the official anthem of the 2016 Wales team, “Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)”, by the Manic Street Preachers, during the service on Sunday, the official opening of the college.

“The whole point of that song is saying ‘Not since 1958. . .’ Do you give up because of those ‘almosts’, and do you feel shackled by history or not? Our football team has proved they are not shackled.

“St Padarn’s is a key expression of what the Church in Wales is doing — trying to break out from a relatively negative 50 years.”

The institute is the result of a shake-up of theological training in Wales: the century-old residential college of St Michael’s, in Llandaff, has closed, and in its place all six dioceses will use St Padarn’s for a range of part-time and full-time training for new lay ministries, and for parish-based ordination schemes. Degree courses at the institute will be accredited by the University of Wales, Trinity St David.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “For the Church to flourish, it needs the gifts and energy of all its people, not just a few. St Padarn’s is enabling us to open up ministry and equip more people to find and respond to their particular calling.”

There are 13 full-time and 37 part-time students at St Padarn’s. That is double the number of full-timers in the last year of St Michael’s College, and three times as many part-time students, Dr Duff said.

What he described as a “revolution” in training was not a result of squeezed finances, but a new vision for growth, he said. More money was being poured into theological education than under the old system, and all six dioceses and bishops had thrown their weight behind St Padarn’s. “A ‘blank cheque’ is an exaggeration, but there is a will to invest in leadership,” Mr Duff said.

Theological training has undergone considerable upheaval across Britain in recent years. Some colleges closing down full-time residential training (News, 20 November), while the leaders of other institutions are pushing back against the Church of England’s plans to give dioceses more say in how their ordinands are trained, but will provide less money for training older candidates (News, 12 February).

Dr Duff was critical about the situation over the border: “In England, the Resourcing Ministerial Education report comes out, and two years later half of its provisions have been deleted, and the other half is going back and forth at Synod.

“All the innovative and bold stuff has been hugely watered down. You don’t get that in Wales — we are small enough that the bishops and I can sit down in a room, decide things, and they can happen six months later.”

The final thing his Church could learn from the Welsh football team, Dr Duff said, is their motto — “Together Stronger”. St Padarn’s, he went on, a rare example of the Church pulling as one, could be the start of the long road back from decline and despair. “St Padarn’s is the first time that the Church in Wales is together doing something that makes a difference in parishes and on the ground.”

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